9 December: Save The Date!

On 9 December 2016, the Bridging the Unbridgeable project will organise a usage guides symposium at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. Speakers will include Rebecca Gowers (author of the revised edition of Plain Words and of the recently published Horrible Words), … Continue reading

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The “new” like and non-native speakers of English

Earlier this summer, Susan de Smit finished her BA thesis in English here at Leiden on the use of “the new like” by native as well as non-native speakers of English. If you are interested in the results of her survey, have a look at the summary she wrote of her main and most interesting findings.

 

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Children in a world of prescriptivists

Lonneke van Leest-Kootkar is one of the few students from my Testing Prescriptivism course who still has a second blogpost to publish. As you will see, she is also the mother of two small children:

The inspiration for this blogpost came from a quotation from Halliday et al.’s The Linguistic Sciences and Language Teaching (1964), which I came across in Milroy & Milroy’s Authority in Language which we read during the course:

A speaker who is made ashamed of his own language habits suffers a basic injury as a human being: to make anyone, especially a child, feel so ashamed is as indefensible as to make him feel ashamed of the colour of his skin ([1985] 2012: 84).

Even though I do have some stickler tendencies tucked away deep inside of me, I don’t like correcting other people. In my teens I had this stickler boyfriend who taught me some ‘proper’ Dutch grammar. I hated being corrected and even though I now know and prefer the correct forms, I still don’t like correcting other people.

As a mother of two small children I am confronted with sticklers and pedants correcting young children on a daily basis. I am usually amazed at the new words my two-and-half-year-old daughter comes up with and how she is able to apply grammar to new words.

Even though blogs on “good parenting” and grammar usually encourage parents to let children make mistakes and not correct them, especially not mid-sentence, this is not the reality of what is happening. I’m sure many new mothers read popular blogs and email newsletters on the development of their children, but I wanted to find out where the stickler attitude to children’s language acquisition came from.

My children’s nursery recently hosted a meeting on child language acquisition. The experts of the evening were two middle-aged women from the consultatiebureau, the governmental Dutch baby clinic which monitors your child’s development and provides vaccination.

At first the women recommended repetition when teaching children to use single words, but then they went on and on about how to correct their language. Their views on bilingualism were peculiar to say the least: in their opinion you had to teach a child one language with all its rules and correct grammar before even attempting to teach it a second language. As the consulting agency is considered an authority on raising children, I was shocked to see how their views on child language acquisition were so outdated. These women considered themselves real authorities on the matter and weren’t too pleased with the critical questions they got. Even though the baby clinic I go to has the reputation of being old-fashioned at times, this was beyond my expectations.

I was relieved  to hear the nursery staff disagreeing with them, and though I never heard them correct the children entrusted to their care, some of the other parents present really needed reassuring. My children need to learn language and grammar but I don’t think that stopping them mid-sentence to correct them is the way to go. My usual attitude to issues like this is that they’ll probably learn to speak correctly before they hit the age of 18. I’m pretty sure my daughter won’t keep using her self-invented word tattie for ‘rabbit’ and I’m pretty sure she’ll be able to say peekaboo instead of the peekookoo she insists on at this moment.

Please share your thoughts on correcting children’s language and some of the clever children’s language inventions you’ve come across. For those new parents googling and stumbling upon this post, here are some more blogs with information on correcting children’s language: grammarly.com,  theparentreport.com and raisingchildren.net.au, as well as an article by Bohannon and Stanowicz (1988) that you might find of interest.

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English Today: just out

Our latest contribution to English Today was written by Hielke Vriesendorp, a research master student at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics with an interest in prescriptivism. His paper is called “The Internet’s (New) Usage Problems”, and its aim is to collect data on what new usage problems there might be in addition to the “old chestnuts” we are all too familiar with.

So do help him with his research by filling in the survey in the article, which promises to be very interesting indeed.

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The next Prescriptivism conference: 21-23 June 2017

Following the fourth conference on prescriptivism, which was held here at Leiden and co-organised by the Bridging the Unbridgeable project, the next one will be held at Park City, Utah, organised by Don Chapman from Brigham Young University.

The theme for the conference will be “Value(s) of Language Prescriptivism” and papers on any aspect of prescriptivism are invited. So SAVE THE DATE: 21-23 June 2017, and further details will be announced soon.

The book of the previous conference will be out by then. Find more information on the Multilingual Matters website.

Prescriptivism book

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“Use the active voice” – full stop

Here is one example of the effect which following up on Strunk and White’s linguistic advice may have (see last week’s blog post on this):

He spent a considerable portion of 1802 in Nellore collecting manuscripts, interviewing local Brahmins whom they considered accomplished poets, collecting information on local libraries and their contents, and finally translation work (p. 137).

(Thanks to my husband for the example.) They? Who are they in this context? The subject in the preceding clause is “he”, pronominalising Lakshmaya in the sentence before that. Is this the work of a copy-editor, alerted to a passive (“who were considered accomplished poets”) and applying Strunk and Whites dictum “The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive” (p. 18 in my copy)? (If so, he or she may have been pleased to be able to change the who into whom at the same time.)

Nearly five years ago I reported on a conference paper by the late Geoffrey Leech on this blog, called “Decline and (?)disappearance: The negative side of recent changes in Standard English”. The passive was one construction under threat according to Leech, which he attributed to the over-zealous application of prescriptive rules in popular (American) usage guides like Strunk and White. So, copy-editors at OUP’s New Delhi branch and elsewhere: keep the passives in, this will keep them alive and “vigorous”, but will stop us from making grammatical blunders in the first place.

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Strunk & White in our very own NRC-Handelsblad!

I don’t always read the Dutch writer Pia de Jong’s weekly column from the US in our paper, but last night, turning over the NRC, my eye was immediately drawn to the words Elements of Style: Strunk and White in NRC-Handelsblad, wow, a truly major event in Dutch newspaper writing. (Lovely image btw, Eliane Gerrits!)

In the article, Pia de Jong narrates how she received two (!) copies of the book as recent birthday presents, and enthusiastically reports on the useful writing advice she encountered in her reading of it. To be sure, Strunk and White is probably the most successful (in terms of publishing figures, that is!) usage guide of all times, but may we give you some serious advice here, Pia? Before you actually start implementing  what you find in the book in your writing, first read Geoffrey Pullum’s comments on the book. They may make you think twice – well, hopefully anyway.

Strunk&White in de NRC

 

 

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Fingers crossed, please!

A few weeks ago, I submitted our HUGE database as a candidate for the Nederlandse Dataprijs. By mid-September, the jury will nominate three potential winners, and we hope to be among them. What is more, we would really like to be included in the list of winners below, so do please keep your fingers crossed for us!

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